DOES DONALD TRUMP have even an ounce of shame?
As a presidential candidate, he spent much of the election campaign needling, critiquing, denouncing and even threatening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet as president, he is making his first foreign visit this weekend to … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Even by Trumpian standards, the volte-face is brazen. In his first few months in power, we have witnessed the trademark Trump Turnabout on issues ranging from NATO to China to the Export-Import Bank. We have listened to him go from praising Bashar al Assad and rebuking Janet Yellen on the campaign trail, to praising Yellen and rebuking Assad in office. Last October, he said the then-FBI Director James Comey had “guts” for doing “the right thing”; last week, he sacked Comey and called him a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
Trump, to put it mildly, is no stranger to the shameless U-turn. Still, the Trump Turnabout on Saudi Arabia — one of America’s closest allies since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Murphy in 1945 — is a true sight to behold. This weekend, Trump will arrive in Saudi Arabia for a bilateral summit with King Salman as well as a series of meetings with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
There will be handshakes, hugs and smiles galore. We will be expected to forget how Trump blasted the Saudi royals for being freeloaders and threatened them with an economic boycott. Speaking to the New York Times last year, Trump claimed that, without U.S. support and protection, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” The real problem, he continued, was that the Saudis are “a money machine … and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.” Asked if he would be willing to “stop buying oil from the Saudis” if they refused to pull their weight, Trump responded: “Oh yeah, sure. I would do that.”
We will be also expected to ignore the fact that Trump slammed the Saudi government for executing homosexuals and treating women “horribly.” In the third presidential debate last October, Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for taking $25 million from the Saudis, from “people that push gays off … buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money.”
Perhaps above all else, we will be expected to brush under the carpet the fact that, twice in a single day, Trump accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the 9/11 attacks. “Who blew up the World Trade Center?” Trump asked his pals at Fox and Friends on the morning of February 17, 2016. “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”
At a campaign event in South Carolina later that day, he again cited “secret papers” that could prove it was “the Saudis” who were in fact responsible for the attacks on 9/11. “It wasn’t the Iraqis that knocked down the World Trade Center … because they have papers in there that are very secret, you may find it’s the Saudis, okay?”
(To be fair to Trump, far more credible and better-informed figures have come to a similar conclusion: “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” wrote former Florida senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into 9/11, in an affidavit in 2012.)
Whether or not the Saudi government played a role in the 9/11 attacks — and we may never know — for a leading U.S. presidential candidate to claim that they did, not once but twice, had to be seen to be believed. And yet, astonishingly, a little over a year later, it is to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Trump has chosen to make his maiden foreign voyage — rather than to Canada or Mexico, as every president since Ronald Reagan has.
Will Trump return from his Saudi jaunt with a big fat check? His much-hyped “reimbursement”? Will he dare raise the issue of gay rights while in Riyadh? Or women’s rights? Will he manage to bring back a Saudi royal or two in handcuffs for their (alleged) role in the 9/11 attacks? Please. There are greater odds of the American president coming back as a proud convert to Islam.
Hypocrisy is not the exclusive preserve of Trump or the United States, of course. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the “the birthplace of Islam,” ruled by a king who styles himself “custodian of the two holy mosques.” Yet this coming weekend, the Saudi government will offer a warm and lavish welcome to a president who has said “Islam hates us” and wanted to ban all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims from entering the United States. The Saudi position on the latest iteration of the Trump travel ban, targeted at 170-million-odd Muslims? A “sovereign” decision aimed, apparently, at “preventing terrorists from entering the United States of America” and made by a “true friend of Muslims.”
On Sunday, the fawning Saudis will offer a platform to the world’s most famous Islamophobe, to give a speech on Islam in “the birthplace” of Islam. And Trump will likely take the opportunity to decry “radical Islamic terrorism” while visiting a country which has perhaps done more than any other to incite, fund and fuel it.
Hypocrisy unites them both. So too does their fear and loathing of the Iranians — the Saudis are busying dropping bombs and backing militants to push back Iranian influence in Yemen and Syria. The Trump administration, filled with Iran hawks, is on the verge of inking a series of arms deals with Riyadh worth more than $100 billion.
To be clear: Trump’s U-turn on Saudi Arabia has little to do with being moderated by the realities of high office or swayed by the Beltway’s foreign policy elites. Despite his bombastic campaign rhetoric, he never planned to go after the Saudis in office — even after publicly accusing them of murdering 3,000 Americans. Early on in the campaign, in 2015, a senior Arab diplomat told me, on condition of anonymity, that Trump had informed most of the Gulf governments, in private, that his anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric was “all for the campaign” and that it would be business as usual once he was elected (or, for that matter, defeated).
As ever, for Trump, it is always, above all else, about the bottom line — his bottom line. The Saudi-bashing Trump sold an entire floor of the Trump World Tower to the Saudis for $4.5 million in 2001. And would it surprise you to discover that Trump also registered eight companies tied to hotel interests in Saudi Arabia in the midst of his Saudi-bashing presidential campaign?
Of course not. Business is business. Trump is Trump. You might be repulsed by his deceitfulness…but you have to admire his chutzpah.
Ilhan Omar: No debate on ‘whether Trump is a racist’ | UpFront
Hers is a remarkable journey: from a refugee camp in Kenya to a state legislature in the United States. In 2016, Ilhan Omar became the first elected Somali-American Muslim lawmaker in the US, the same night that Donald Trump was elected president.
When asked about Trump’s role in the rise of anti-Muslim, far right, white nationalist hate groups in the country, Omar says she would come very short of holding him “exclusively responsible”.
“I think when you … demonise and dehumanise, it is easy for people to commit acts of violence against those individuals because they no longer see them as a person, as someone who has feelings, who’s worthy of respect,” says Omar.
“We are moving away from this idea that we are supposed to be a welcoming nation.”
In this special interview, we speak with Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar about Trump and the rise of Islamophobia in the US.
Case of botched ICE flight to Somalia signals legal shift on deportations
The U.S. government’s prospects for deporting 92 people it unsuccessfully tried to fly to Somalia in December are getting murkier.
What’s more, a legal fight over the passengers’ fates — many of whom are from Minnesota — joins a string of recent cases that could stake out a more muscular role for federal courts in blocking deportations. The government has countered that Congress stripped the courts of any say in deportation challenges.
But a Miami federal judge ruled he has the power to keep the 92 Somalis in the United States, and he appears poised to give them time to fight their removals. That’s the latest example of judges reasserting an authority to stay removals, particularly in cases where authorities come for immigrants long slated for deportation but allowed to stay because of conditions in their home country. Just last week, a judge in California blocked the deportations of Cambodians, including at least one from Minnesota, ordered back when that country refused to take deportees.
“It’s really important to make sure the courts have some check on what could be unfettered federal government power over deportation,” said Michele McKenzie of Minneapolis-based nonprofit The Advocates for Human Rights, which has helped with the Somalia case.
In court filings, the government has suggested these judicial decisions will spur a flurry of last-ditch, frivolous court bids to win extra time in the United States. It has noted that some immigrants involved in the recent cases, such as two-thirds of the passengers on the botched flight to Somalia, have criminal convictions, including for murder.
A failed mission
A chartered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flight with the 92 Somalis made it to Senegal back in December. But according to a government account, logistical issues stranded the plane for 20 hours at a Dakar airport and led the agency to return the deportees to Florida.
Attorneys have said 28 of the passengers are from Minnesota. Some have lengthy criminal histories. Others, including a Rochester cardiovascular technician and an Owatonna police officer, built quiet lives after failed asylum claims years ago. ICE detained them amid a return to deporting immigrants to Somalia that began under the Obama administration and ramped up last year under President Donald Trump.
The Miami lawsuit alleges the detainees spent 40 hours sitting shackled on the plane and were struck, kicked, choked and disparaged by guards. Attorneys at the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, the University of Miami and two other organizations argue the failed flight and international publicity surrounding it have made it more dangerous to return the deportees to Somalia. They asked the judge to block a do-over of the flight so the plaintiffs can file new cases in immigration court or with the Board of Immigration Appeals.
In January, attorneys also filed a complaint that said staff at a Florida detention center were abusive and denied plaintiffs enough access to lawyers and medical treatment.
ICE doesn’t comment on pending suits. But in court filings, officials denied the plaintiffs’ allegations, offering testimony from health care providers and saying the detention center segregated some after disorderly behavior, such as assaults on staff.
The government has argued the court has no jurisdiction in the case because the Real ID Act of 2005 placed deportation challenges in the hands of the immigration appeals board.
Judge Darrin Gayles ruled the case’s “extraordinary circumstances” give him limited jurisdiction to ensure due process for the plaintiffs, who might have new arguments for reopening their deportation cases.
Gayles will decide this month whether to continue blocking passengers’ deportations and for how long, but his order signaled he is open to giving the plaintiffs until they get a response on bids to reopen their cases.
The courts have also reclaimed a more active role in blocking deportations in recent cases involving Iraqi immigrants in the Detroit area and Indonesian Christians in New Hampshire. In late January, a federal judge in California stayed the deportations of about 90 Cambodian refugees detained nationwide. Linus Chan of the Center for New Americans said these cases are significant at a time of stepped-up enforcement. A district court in the Twin Cities also acted to keep several men off the December flight to Somalia.
The judges are saying you can’t just sit on these orders for five or 10 years and then deport people without giving them a chance to challenge their removals because so much has changed,” Chan said.
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restricting immigration, said the rulings concern her — the judges are not accountable if those with convictions reoffend during these reprieves — but she believes they will be reversed: “The appeals courts and the Supreme Court are going to get very busy with all this lawfare aimed at undermining enforcement of our immigration laws.”
Trump’s ‘marching orders’ to the Pentagon: Plan a grand military parade
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered Pentagon and White House officials to begin planning a military parade in Washington similar to the Bastille Day parade he witnessed in Paris in July, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
At a meeting at the Pentagon on Jan. 18 that included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, Trump said he wanted a military parade, the Post reported, citing a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the military official said, according to the Post. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military,” the official added.
After the Post published its story, the White House issued a statement that said Trump “has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the parade planning was in the “brainstorming” stage and nothing had been decided, the Post reported.
The Pentagon was aware of a request for a parade but was only just starting to explore possibilities, including on timing, a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters.
Trump has said he was impressed by the military parade he watched in Paris on July 14. U.S. and French soldiers marched together to mark 100 years since the United States entered World War One and France’s annual Bastille Day holiday. It included tanks, armored vehicles and a flyover of U.S. and French military jets.
“To a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4 in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump told reporters in September. “We’re actually looking into it.”
The U.S. capital has held large military displays to mark significant occasions, including victories in war, but rolling tanks and marching troops down Pennsylvania Avenue are not typically done on the U.S. Independence Day holiday.